All eyes will be on D.J. Uiagalelei as Clemson opens up spring practice
The college football community successfully navigated its way through the 2020 season and a true champion was determined. For Clemson fans, it was not the desired outcome but they can all now utter these magic words that can perhaps ease some of the Sugar Bowl pain.
Spring practice begins this week.
With the Tigers' starting defense pretty well set, most of the questions surrounding the team are related to the offense. Here are five things to analyze this spring as Dabo Swinney's troops set forward to bring the big trophy back to Clemson.
5 Storylines to Watch During Clemson's Spring Practice
1. D.J. Uiagalelei
Everyone is aware of the talents possessed by the sophomore from Inland Empire, California. It was crystal clear to anyone that watched him against Boston College and Notre Dame in South Bend that Uiagalelei can make plays and has all the tools necessary to be one of the top quarterbacks in America. But now the offense is his and he has to take command both on and off the field. For Uiagalelei, this spring will be the time to develop mentally as well as physically.
2. Health at receiver
The return of Justyn Ross from his spinal injury will rightly be Clemson's biggest story at receiver this spring. But Ross will be far from a full participant over the next few weeks and there are a couple of other Tiger receivers that need to rebound from injury as well. Frank Ladson was hampered by foot and hip issues for much of the 2020 season and Joseph Ngata suffered an abdominal injury that required surgery. Despite the loss of Cornell Powell and Amari Rodgers, Clemson will have a deep group of wide receivers next fall, especially if Ross, Ladson, and Ngata are 100 percent.
3. Replacing Travis Etienne
Odds are that it will take more than one running back to make up for the loss of No. 9. Senior-to-be Lyn-J Dixon has been the heir-apparent for three seasons and has the most experience of the returning backs. In his career, Dixon has 1,372 yards rushing with 13 touchdowns on 208 carries. Chez Mellusi averaged 5.6 yards per carry this past fall and Darien Rencher averaged 5.7. All three will compete for time, as will freshman Will Shipley, the highly touted early enrollee from Matthews, North Carolina.
4. Walker Parks at left tackle
Clemson is fortunate to have four starters back along the offensive line. But the one open position is the most important: left tackle. One scenario is to move starting right tackle Jordan McFadden to the left side and allow a newcomer to ease in at his old position. But McFadden (6-2) doesn't have ideal left tackle length. What Clemson coaches want to happen is for Walker Parks to lock down the blindside position. There's a good chance the former top-50 recruit will start regardless of what the staff does with McFadden, but the cohesion of the group will be aided if Parks is the best option at left tackle.
5. Striking a defensive balance
The Tigers averaged 9.08 tackles for lost yardage and 3.83 sacks per game in 2020, numbers that are on par with their best teams of the past six years. However, the Clemson defense allowed more big plays last fall than they have in years past. This was especially the case in the passing game where, despite playing fewer games due to COVID-19, their 21 plays allowed of more than 30 yards were the most since giving up 22 in 2012. With most of his pieces back, defensive coordinator Brent Venables needs to find a way to prevent big plays without losing aggression.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Top photo courtesy of clemsontigers.com)